Labor Leader Cites Lawmakers, School in Helping Grad Employee Union Form

Apr 23, 2014

Julie Kushner, director of the UAW Region 9A.
Credit uaw.org

A long-time organizer with the United Auto Workers said University of Connecticut graduate employees won union recognition last week in what she called "the fastest-moving campaign ever." That’s due, in part, to the support of state lawmakers, and the school’s decision not to interfere.

Graduate student employees at UConn decided in January of this year to work with the United Auto Workers to try to win union recognition. Julie Kushner, director of the UAW Region 9A, credited Connecticut’s elected officials with helping the process to move forward smoothly and quickly.

"For UConn’s part," Kushner said, "what was also very exceptional was that President Herbst and the board of trustees embraced this approach and said, 'We think the grad employees should make that decision their own.'"

Madelynn von Baeyer, a research assistant in UConn’s anthropology department, and a member of the organizing committee, said the school’s 2000 graduate assistants have been concerned about changes to their health benefits plan. "Pretty much, when all of us came into UConn, our graduate employees packages were highly competitive," she said. "Our health benefits were very good. The fees that we were asked to pay to the university were not as large as they are now. However, even in the past two years, this has declined dramatically. Our health benefit package changed dramatically, and also the fees have increased quite a bit."

The UConn development follows an announcement in December that graduate employees at New York University -- a private institution -- have also unionized.

The UAW’s Julie Kushner said she expects to see more graduate-employee unionizing at both public and private universities nationwide. "I believe that those workers in the private universities are going to want and desire to have collective bargaining in much the way that so many do already at public universities," she said. "I think that we’re going to see tremendous organizing over the next few months and years."

There has been great resistance to the unionization of graduate employees at the nation’s private sector universities.